There are now no black-owned full-power TV stations in the U.S.
Joseph Torres and S. Derek Turner | 12/31/2013, noon
If you think this situation can’t get worse, think again.
While owning a full-power TV station has been out of reach for most people of color, low-power TV has offered an opportunity to get into this otherwise closed industry.
Low-power TV commercial stations serve smaller areas than their full-power counterparts, and often lack legal protections, including guaranteed carriage by cable and satellite providers.
Consequently, they’re far cheaper to own.
At the end of 2011, the FCC reported that people of color owned 15 percent of all low-power TV stations, compared to just 3 percent of full-power TV outlets.
But this small ray of hope is expected to dim as the prospect of an auction to cellphone companies could drive out the owners of these low-power TV stations too.
The FCC is preparing to conduct that incentive auction in the next year or two. As a result, speculators have been buying up both low- and full-power TV stations in an effort to cash in.
This fervent speculation is creating a climate where many existing owners are forced to sell (as their creditors are more interested in pocketing a financial windfall than serving the community). We’re already seeing several full- and low-power owners of color exiting the market.
The FCC has a long and pitiful track record here, failing to promote or even preserve what little ownership diversity remains.
There’s hope this could change now that the agency has a new chairman.
But leaders have to lead.
In this case, that means the new FCC has to acknowledge that we’re well beyond a crisis point. Its own policies are responsible for the shameful state of minority ownership.
The elimination of black owners is a tragedy, but the FCC must take action to address its own failures.
Joseph Torres is senior external affairs director and S. Derek Turner is research director for the Free Press.